Mid90s: Jonah Hill’s Coming-of-Age Tribute to Gen X



A completely new breath in a life that’s not yours. As with all people’s lives, one can be isolated and distant from the experience of others, even if they do share common ground of some kind. A good-slice-of-life film captures the essence of a person’s life and turns it into a visual reality for the audience. It brings emotion and relatability in the face of the inherent way that we struggle to find empathy in others.

“Mid90s,” Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, captures its characters with intense authenticity and accuracy for its period.

The film focuses on Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic, a young boy in Los Angeles who finds a group of friends when he starts skateboarding. It focuses on the life and awkward in- betweens that plagued the lives of kids that grew up in the middle of the 90s. The film also focuses on a trying family dynamic, particularly Stevie’s mother’s struggle to raise two prepared sons.

The film focuses on an age mostly explored through themes of maturity, puberty, and sibling dynamics, but chooses to ignore almost all of these things. Instead, it focuses on the realness and confrontations of life that manage to just beat you down at times, and Stevie learns just how little he can run away from the problems in his life. They continue to return and plague his home life, and he can’t escape it.

One of the most profound elements of this film come from the combination of its time period and emotional drama.

“The reason Jonah made it in the 90s, in that time period, was not because it was like a very cool era. [It’s] because there weren’t any phones. Out of boredom, you have like intimate conversations. And if it gets like too surreal, you can’t just go on your phone and get distracted,” Suljic said, reiterating something that Jonah Hill explained to the cast during production.

The time period serves both as a setting as well as a narrative tool. Kids cannot simply use their phones to escape an awkward or undesirable conversation. All of the characters, from F*cks**t played by Olan Prenatt, and Ray played by Na-kel Smith, have some sort of confrontation that is forced upon them by this obligatory proximity to their problems.

In this way, skating is not so much an escape as it is a release for the main cast. The raw expression of the characters is outletted through skateboarding. This act of skateboarding becomes the connecting thread for not just their common interests and closeness that they have to share, but also as a personal way to connect all these characters. It creates an emotional core that centers on many simple yet complex issues that may seem peripheral for some individuals within the film.

One stumble of the film is its lack of follow-through. This is expected for Hill’s first solo script and directing role; some elements find themselves developed and almost immediately forgotten or abandoned. Little details and small plot points are not given a chance to conclude. This is despite the abrupt ending, which the cast described as a way to show the abruptness of life and the fact that this is simply a small snippet of the vast world that is Stevie’s life.

While this is true to the motives of the film, I cannot deny that many parts would have flowed better and felt more concrete if they were either concluded or omitted entirely. The editing does not entirely help to smooth out any of these types of problems as it chugs along, delivering serviceable yet sometimes-jarring amendments.

The music comes to the film’s aid. Viewers are transported to the past just by listening to the music. It covers the gambit of A Tribe Called Quest to the Pixies, but somehow fitting with an unknowing subtly. Hill gave the actors iPods filled with music that their characters would have listened to, which only solidifies how important music was to this period and these characters.

“Mid90s” is a mood-piece. One result is that it is muddy due to the confusing lack of conclusions and effective payoffs. However, from the music to the straight-faced authenticity of the dialogue and characters, Hill has created exactly what he envisioned: a strongly atmospheric and intensely emotional slice-of-life story driven by its excellently acted and realized characters.

Michael may be reached at
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